No Ordinary Monday

On Friday, when I wrote my last post, I wasn’t fully aware of what had happened at my nephew’s elementary school.  I didn’t know that the tiny community of Sandy Hook in bucolic Newtown, Connecticut, a  community that my brother and his family had settled in because of the great schools and the peaceful sense of community would become a symbol of tragedy for our nation. I was just thankful that my little 7-year old nephew was safe with his dad and in shock that something like this could happen at an elementary school.

Needless to say, the whole country has been in shock over the last 72 hours.  As I found out details, I kept thinking, “What if Declan (my nephew) had missed the December 1 cutoff date to start school and been in the first grade rather than the second? What if Nate (my son who is only 3 months younger than Declan and is in first grade himself) had been in those classrooms instead of his cousin? What if it happened at a school less secure than Sandy Hook Elementary?”

Because of Sandy Hook’s well-trained and heroic staff and numerous security measures, many lives were saved.  My own son’s school is open from the back and the front of the school and unlocked for most of the school day.  The schools where I taught had open and unlocked hallways (unless on lockdown).  The schools where I have been supervising this semester are also open for the most part.  Before this weekend, I really didn’t think much about it in a global sense.  But now, it terrifies me. And quite frankly, the “it” that terrifies me is not an “it” that we can build fences around or increase security to prevent.

Starting Friday afternoon, when the information on the number of victims became more clear, I began seeing a lot of postings about gun control.  I want to say upfront that I personally believe in gun control.  I don’t see any reason for any citizen to be in possession of semi-automatic weapons or magazines that allow for the type of destruction that happened at Sandy Hook Elementary.  Those types of weapons are not used in self-defense or for hunting.  As the mother of a young child and a former urban middle school teacher, I would rather we eliminate guns altogether to be perfectly honest. I have seen too many tragedies, both accidental and intentional, that are as a result of gun violence.

However, to me, the issues behind the Sandy Hook shootings are oversimplified if we look only at gun control or if we blame first person shooter video games or if we simply demonize the killer. On Saturday morning, I shared a link on facebook to the blog post “Thinking the Unthinkable” which was later widely shared under the title, “I am Adam Lanza’s Mother.” Following that share, I looked through my twitter feeds and was shocked to see people harshly judging the author of the text, citing previous blog posts out of context, intimating her personal mental health issues and dismissing those who have shared the post as “not doing their homework.”  What first upset me about this attitude of dismissal was the refusal to look at the content of the post and the call to action around helping those with mental health issues, but what came to bother me even more and was the vilification of a mother sharing her story in the hopes of drawing attention, not to her own child’s issues, but to the pain of many mothers who silently, and in isolation, try each day to do the best they can with children who have mental health issues.

We are right to mourn the lost and not to focus all of our attention on the killer, but we are irresponsible if we fail to address our role, as a society in helping those in need.  On Friday, my post talked about the difficulty we have as a society talking about collective trauma, but perhaps even more indicting is our attitude towards the mentally ill.  According the 2008 statistics from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), approximately 8% of US adults aged 18-25 and 5% of adults overall, suffer from a serious mental illness “which substantially interferes with or limits one or more major life activities.”  Further, the NIMH states that, “(M)ental disorders are common throughout the United States, affecting tens of millions of people each year, and that only a fraction of those affected receive treatment.” While national attention is focused on violent forms of mental illness, manifested in these horrible acts of violence against the innocent, mental health issues are all around us in society everyday and often take the forms of homelessness, suicidality, and self-harm, rather than violence against others.  And yet, many of those suffering from mental illnesses and those who are charged with supporting them hide behind smiles or try their best of simulate “ordinary” lives for fear that admitting a struggle with a mental health issue will bring indifference, dismissal or judgment.

We must, as a society, look at how we treat one another and what we teach children about people who are different from us.  As educators (and/or parents), we must provide a safe and open space for students/children to be who they are and how they are, and we must get them help if and when they need it.  This morning, a friend of mine, who is an elementary school teacher posted this link about helping students after traumatic violence like that which occurred in Newtown, and it is that blog which prompted the title of this one.  It is not an ordinary Monday.  We must begin to pick up the pieces of our broken hearts, but also those of our fragmented society.  If we are to prevent further violence, rather than giving into fear and isolating ourselves from one another, we must come together and support one another.

Keep Newtown and the Sandy Hook community in your thoughts and prayers, but more importantly, honor the children of Newtown and the world through your actions, advocacy, and compassion for your fellow human beings.


One thought on “No Ordinary Monday

  1. Betina, I have been following your blog for the last few posts and I completely agree, especially on this. Glad your nephew is okay and I hope that something is done in support of mental health awareness and gun control.

    Hope all is well for you and looking forward to reading more posts! 🙂

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